THERE was loud laughter and audible gasps from the audience watching Billy Roche’s Lay Me Down Softly as they were swept into the small world of amateur boxing in 1960s Ireland.
Theo is the master of Delaney’s Travelling Roadshow and the actor who plays him, Gary Lydon, makes for a very believable ex-boxer. His girlfriend Lily, boxer Dean and a few off-screen, unseen characters are all victim to his physically menacing presence.
Their nomadic lifestyle is interrupted by the appearance of Emer, Theo’s estranged daughter.
Emer is headstrong and determined to find a better life but also to discover the secrets of her past. This proves to be a great device to introduce the characters as they reminisce over past loves and resolve themselves to their current situation.
It’s difficult to choose a standout performance from such a strong cast but Simone Kirby plays the bolshy Lily to perfection.
Lay Me Down Softly focuses on fleshing the characters out with well-observed and subtle mannerisms.
Rather than move the plot forwards, the dull minutiae of everyday conversation is explored and further compounds the veracity of the relationships.
Writer/director Billy Roche brings personal knowledge to this world as both his grandfather and father fought professionally.
Though the actual boxing matches are left unseen, characters increasingly scuffle on the sidelines as their insecurities come to the fore.
All the action takes place in the Academy Boxing Arena which is effectively bought to life by Bui Bolg’s set design with swathes of candy-striped material and bare light bulbs surrounding a central dusty and leathery boxing ring.
Dean, or “Killer Deano”, is confident of his fighting prowess until a professional boxer challenges him and knocks him spark-out.
Theo places bets against Dean and manages to make money out of his loss. Although there are recurring references to the greed associated with amateur boxing, these are counteracted by a bittersweet nostalgia for past glories and the mythical dignity of the sport.
The ending leaves questions unanswered but confidently trusts the audience can make up their mind on how the different strands will resolve or play on.
Until August 6
020 7328 1000
Published: 14 July, 2011
by AMY SMITH